Posted on September 16th, 2009 5 comments
Hanii in the Sky
Release Date: 2/28/89
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.98 / 30.00
Kōgien: “An unusual shooting game where your character is a haniwa doll. The most unique feature is your ability to attack in a 360-degree radius. Defeat enemies to earn spirit energy you can trade for power-ups.”
Looking back, it’s somewhat remarkable how many early PC Engine games depicted the Buddha in one way or another. First Yōkai Dōchūki, then SonSon II, and now this game, where a very Amidabha-like god named Izanaki (not to be confused with Izanagi) sends his closest confidant — a dancing haniwa figure named Hanii — into the body of his divine wife in order to clear it of evil spirits and stop her from messing up the world. (Asian religions are generally a lot more chill when it comes to screwing around with their chief figures in popular entertainment.)
It is difficult to find very much information these days about Face, the publisher of Hanii in the Sky. Like a few other publishers around this time (such as Bigclub and Media Rings), they were probably a bunch of PC devs who started releasing PCE games because it was a piracy-free marketplace in 1989 and third-partying for NEC was cheaper than paying Nintendo’s license fees. Only one of their ten PCE titles (Time Cruise) had a US release; the most fondly-remembered ones these days in Japan is either this or their Mahjong Gakuen strip-mahjong series. In 1997 they released Money Idol Exchanger for the Neo-Geo; a more-or-less clone of Magical Drop; Data East sued them in Japan for infringement, but Face went out of business almost immediately thereafter, which goes to show that releasing “falling-thing” puzzle games wasn’t the most lucrative of businesses even back then. As of May 2009, an outfit called Softsign has the rights to Face’s back library, but so far they haven’t used them for anything besides a PS Archives release for Money Idol Exchanger in Japan.
Before all of that, though, there was Hanii. It’s pretty plain-looking, but it’s worth noting because it’s (in my eyes) the first PCE shooter to take for granted that gamers have Turbo Pads and adjust the game design appropriately. As you can see in the video below, you have all-powerful turbo shots from the very beginning; you can also apply turbo to the I button (which changes your firing direction) to give you crazy windmilling 8-way rapid fire, which surely makes you the baddest, raddest, rocket-powered haniwa that has ever existed. Instead of emphasizing rapid fire the way Hudson shooters like Star Soldier did on the Famicom, Face instead treated turbo as a given and crafted the game’s enemy patterns — most of which require a solid strategy to defeat, not just pattern memorization — around them.
So already, in 1989, you’re seeing the evolution of the shooter genre here in this silly game, from titles that emphasized patterns to those that rewarded straight-on reflexes — in other words, bullet-hell. Regardless of what you think of this evolution, games like Hanii that straddle the line between the two trends make for some very fascinating game archaeology.
SweepRecord released an official CD soundtrack for Hanii in Japan…in January 2009. Why they did this, I can’t say. The potential audience for that disc couldn’t have been more than, like, 20. That’s not meant to be a slam on the music, though, which — like the visuals — is plainly-implemented but strangely fascinating.